Social Class, Laws and Institutions
Goguryeo was a typical class society. The social hierarchy consisted of four classes of the king, aristocrats, commoners and slaves. Individual lives were uniformly regulated in terms of class. Goguryeo kings were drawn from a blood lineage called "gherubu" and, in time, the royal family was clearly distinguished from other aristocratic families. The royal families enjoyed great privileges, but sometimes they were sacrificed during power struggles. Goguryeo constituted five tribes altogether. One being the royal family, the leadership of the other four tribes, Biryu-nabu, Yon-nabu, Hwan-nabu and Gwan-nabu was absorbed into the Goguryeo establishment as they began to take up government posts. Eventually, they came to form the Goguryeo aristocracy. Aristocrats were allowed to bequeath titles and wealth to their descendants, but they were also responsible to go out themselves to fight battles in times of war. By the end of third century, the former tribal distinctions mostly disappeared and power was centralized.
Even though Goguryeo had a large number of slaves, the mainstays responsible for production were commoners. They had to cultivate plots of land, pay taxes to the state and provide labor forces; in short, they constituted the backbone of the state. Even though Goguryeo seized war prisoners and compelled them to serve as slaves, competent prisoners were given equitable positions to positively utilize their capabilities. With regard to the groups of people that submitted en masse, Goguryeo would simply impose taxes only, but it would grant autonomy and rights in terms of their lifestyles. Sometimes, Goguryeo would try to hold them within its sphere of influence, even at hefty costs, in order to utilize the military potential of these groups.
The Goguryeo kingdom flourished for a long span of 705 years. And, throughout its history there have been large and small vicissitudes of change in its legal and political systems. Goguryeo was a state governed by strict rule of law. It promulgated a systematic set of codes in 372 by combining existing customary rules and other laws. Traitors were put to death and individuals who committed larceny had to repay ten times the value of goods stolen. Goguryeo people would not even pick up things on the streets, and social discipline was so firmly established that prisons were usually empty.
Central government and provincial organizations were streamlined according to laws. Later in the Goguryeo period, the entire country, including the capital, was divided into five provinces ("bu") and provincial administrative structures were organized around fortress units. In a large fort, "yoksal," or a five-province-level minister, was appointed as local magistrate, while "choryo-gunji" and "rucho" were assigned for mid-size and small forts, respectively. In the central government, there were 13 office ranks including the highest "daedaero" and "mag-ri-ji," and each rank was charged with appropriate administrative duties. At a council of aristocrats where officials with rank 5 and above attended, important government matters were decided. This aristocratic council was a successor to the traditional "council of 5 tribal chiefs" of the early period. Policy decision-making through discussions and consensus was a time-honored tradition of Goguryeo's political culture.
The region where Goguryeo was founded was not very suitable for cultivation purposes. Early Goguryeo was a poor nation maintaining its livelihood on hunting and grazing, in addition to farming. Even though the Goguryeo people enjoyed hunting very much, it could not become a major industry. Since it had few wide-open plains, they could not raise livestock on a large scale. So, they had no choice but to fill up what they lacked from neighboring nations; it built up its military strength and attacked China's Later Han, a farming tribe, and the Eastern Ye and Okjeo that were underdeveloped, and seized foods and prisoners of war. In particular, war prisoners served as a useful labor force that stimulated the economy of Goguryeo. As Goguryeo captured an increasing number of its inhabitants, the Later Han even adopted a policy of paying 40 "pil" (rolls) of silk per prisoner and one half per child to gain their people back.
However, an economy could never depend solely on plundering. As Goguryeo increasingly piled up wealth and extended its territory into fertile agricultural lands along the Yellow Sea, positive efforts were made to improve agriculture. Ironware farming tools were widely distributed and large numbers of cattle were utilized in farming. The cattle would pull big iron plowshares measuring 40 centimeters in width and weighing 10 kg, and as they cultivated farming land, agricultural output greatly increased.
Farmers' lives were greatly stabilized as the "law on relief loans" called "jindae-beob" was enforced in A.D. 194. This law enabled peasants to borrow grains from state storehouses during the spring famine season and repay them after the autumn harvest. At this point, a large number of farmers immigrated into Goguryeo from neighboring countries. From the late 4th century, Goguryeo grew up into an advanced farming country, as the size of arable land increased in the wake of the conquests and territorial expansions by able kings like King Gwanggaeto.
Increased agricultural output entailed the development of cities and commercial activities in Goguryeo. Huge markets cropped up in remote outlying districts as well as Gungnaeseong and Pyongyang, the earlier and later capitals of Goguryeo. International markets were opened at many points, especially at Yuseong in western Goguryeo, to promote trades with nomadic people of grasslands and farmers of the Hubei region. Yuseong (today's Chouyang City, Liaoning Province) prospered so much that over 30,000 merchants would rush in and out at a time. Gold and silver were widely used as a means of settlement. And, ironware, ginseng, silk, sable and various handicraft works were important trade items. Goguryeo's external trade network reached as far as Southeast Asia, southern China, Japan, Central Asia and Siberia, and the goods imported through these channels were carted off to various parts of the country over a nationwide network of roads and bridges.
In addition to Gungnaeseong Fortress and Pyongyang, other densely populated fort cities emerged, including Hanseong with a population of more than 100,000 people, Ogolseong surrounded by 16 km-long walls, Liaodung-seong, Sinseong, Geonanseong, Puyeoseong and Chaekseong. In particular, a number of walls were built in Pyongyang, including the northern and interior walls, to protect the royal palace and a central wall to protect government offices and Janganseong whose wall runs 23 km. Janganseong was an outer wall built to protect markets and residential districts of ordinary citizens. This outer city of Janganseong was a planned city from the beginning. Over the Daedong and Botong rivers that hug around the outer wall districts, they built bridges and canals to facilitate the transportation of goods. Each residential area inside was divided into lots, and each lot was 84x120 meters in size. Roads wide enough to accommodate six wagons at a time and narrow ones for two wagons were also built.
Goguryeo was blessed with a great abundance of gold, silver and iron. In particular, iron production was plentiful enough to provide iron to Khitan and Silwi who suffered from shortages of iron. Iron processing technology was also excellent. As a result, a variety of efficient weapons were produced, which helped strengthen Goguryeo's military prowess. The Goguryeo people highly regarded technicians, and worshipped the "Wagon-wheel God," "Blacksmith God," and "God of Fire." For these reasons, diverse industries saw progress and their development led to cultural enrichment, which in turn served as a strong centrifugal force to command the respect of neighboring countries.
Food, Clothing and Housing
Winter weather in Goguryeo was very cold. So, a warm dwelling environment was very important in their lives. Goguryeo people invented the "ondol" heating system in which a floor stone is heated by burning fire at one end of the room with the smoke traveling underneath and exiting at the other end, making the living space warm. The system was widely used in palaces, temples and military posts, as well as houses of ordinary citizens. Ondol heating that is in use at most of the contemporary Korean dwellings today originated from Goguryeo. However, in Goguryeo, only part of a large room had hot-floors heated by this method. Other furniture such as wooden tables, beds or chairs were placed in other parts of the room so that people could sleep at night or sit around for daily routines.
Comfortable jackets and trousers for outdoor activities were the basic garments for Goguryeo men. Unlike Chinese men who wore skirts, Goguryeo men wore trousers that were favorable for horse riding like nomadic people of the northern region. They closed the front of a jacket to the left and tied the waist without buttons. This style was intended to increase efficiency and convenience when shooting arrows.
Women wore a variety of skirts such as pleated, rainbow-striped or polka-dot skirts. But they also wore comfortable trousers. Often they would enjoy wearing outer robes adorned with bright patterns.
Most Goguryeo men wore a topknot hairstyle and a hat. Women wore various hairstyles and sometimes used wigs. In Goguryeo, colorful clothing styles flourished as a variety of clothing materials including silk was produced thanks to its advanced dying technology. Even serfs wore colorfully patterned clothes. Generally, men preferred comfortable and practical clothes, and women liked to wear comfortable yet beautiful dresses.
Goguryeo people enjoyed diverse diets. Rice, beans and millet were staple grains, while barley, wheat and Indian millet served as a subsidiary diet. Toward the latter period of the kingdom, consumption of rice increased. With regard to diet of the early period, they ate hot gruel by grinding up grains and boiling them with water in earthenware (like "grits"). They soon switched to grains steamed in an earthenware steamer, and then they learned to boil rice in a cauldron (which is the way Koreans cook rice today). The representative Goguryeo dish was "maeg-jeok, or roasted meat with seasonings. This is the predecessor of today's "bulgogi" (roast beef), one of the most famous Korean dishes. A dinner table of Goguryeo people would consist of half a dozen different foods prepared in various-sized dishes, including fine dinnerware called "judu," on a table called "joban." They ate their meals with spoons and chopsticks. They also used a small knife called "ojado" to cut meat into small pieces. They would also have cabbage, lettuce and radish preserved with salt. In later generations, people would add red peppers to the dish, and this is the origin of Korea's world famous "kimchi" (fermented vegetable dish). The home of beans, Goguryeo would use beans to make various sauces made from beans, like soybean paste and soy sauce. They also enjoyed brewing rice wines.